ROMANCE WITH A SERRATED EDGE. Nancee CAIN

Christmas Past, A Pine Bluff Novel extra

Standing in the center of the mall, Dylan McAthie tried to decide where he could do some one-stop shopping. A harried couple ran in to him and the incessant ringing of the bell asking for donations was getting on his nerves. He just wanted to get this over with so he could slip outside and smoke before meeting up with his asshole older brother.

“Are you in line?”

“Huh?” Dylan looked around and then down.

A little girl with long, dark hair stared up at him. She had the most unusual colored eyes he’d ever seen. They were the color of amethysts. She looked vaguely familiar but he couldn’t place where he knew her from. Was she someone’s little sister?

“In line?” he asked.

“For Santa.” She looked at him as if he was the dumbest human being around and pointed toward the oversized sleigh. In her other hand she held a piece of paper. “We’re almost there.”

Next? For Santa? A tantrum throwing kid screeched his displeasure as the mother cooed for him to calm down. The mall Santa winced as the screaming intensified in his ear. Dylan couldn’t think of a worse job than mall Santa with all these snotty nosed brats. If he was Santa, he’d have to be drunk to put up with this. The line he was inadvertently standing in shuffled forward. He turned to leave.

“Where are you going?” the little girl asked.

“I’m not in line. I don’t believe in Santa.”

“That’s what the kids at school say, too.” The little girl’s lower lip trembled and her face fell.

Guilt pricked his conscience. He shouldn’t have dashed her dreams, she couldn’t be more than six or seven. Even he’d believed at her age… He squatted to her level. “What’s your name, angel? Where are your parents?”

“Jennifer Adams. Mommy and Daddy are over there.” She pointed. A couple at the edge of the crowd waved and smiled in return. “What’s your name?”

“Dylan.” His lighter fell out of his shirt pocket.

She picked it up and handed it to him. “Smoking is bad for you.”

“So is talking to strangers, let’s pinky swear not to tell Santa.”

She giggled. “Okay. But I know you. We live next door.”

It dawned on him, she was right. That’s where he’d seen her, playing in her yard. Her family had just moved in a month or so ago. He’d never said hello to them, but had nodded in passing. The line moved forward again, and he realized it was their turn. He stood and to his surprise, the little munchkin held on to his index finger.

“He has to be real, he has to be real, he has to be real…” Jennifer repeated over and over, staring at the Santa. Her eyes grew wider, her steps smaller as they got closer.

“Next!” The harried elf taking pictures motioned them forward. He kept glancing at his watch, probably wanting a break.

Dylan took a step forward, but she hesitated. She looked dangerously close to having a meltdown as she stared at Santa. Dylan picked her up, placing her on his hip. “Come on. Let’s go see if he’s real.”

“I changed my mind. H-he’s scary, Dylan.”

“Santa? Nah, he’s a cool guy. Come on, Jennifer, hop in.”

“Ho, ho, ho!” Santa patted the seat on the sleigh next to him. Again, Jennifer pulled back.

Dylan whispered in her ear, “If he’s real, you don’t want to hurt his feelings, do you?”

She shook her head no but didn’t appear convinced. Dylan lifted her to sit beside Santa, but she refused to let go of his hand.

“You can sit with us, too.” Santa smiled. Now that they were closer, Dylan had to give kudos to the mall. This Santa had a real beard and his suit fit well, without any noticeable padding. Jennifer nodded in agreement, her eyes still huge with terror. Reluctantly, Dylan climbed into the sleigh, praying no one from school would walk by and see his ass talking to Santa Claus. How lame.

“So, young man, what do you want for Christmas besides a carton of cigarettes?” Santa asked.

“Tell him smoking is bad, Santa,” Jennifer chimed in.

For a split-second Dylan wondered how the guy knew he smoked… then remembered he had a pack in his shirt pocket. “Peace on earth,” he replied sarcastically, scanning the crowd for people he knew, relieved when he didn’t see anyone.

“And you, Jennifer?” Santa asked.

Her mouth dropped open. “You know my name?” she squeaked.

Of course, he does, he heard me mention it.

“I’m Santa Claus. I know everything.”

Her eyes narrowed and she crossed her arms. “Then why are you asking me what I want?”

Dylan laughed. Smart kid, how’s Santa going to get out of this one?

“I’m just double checking my list, to see if you’re lying.”

Indignant, she huffed. “I don’t lie! It’s wrong. I want a nurse kit with a real stethoscope, not a fake one. And I need a patient to take care of. And a Barbie, the one with the purple dress.” She handed him her list which Santa perused.

“I think you’ll need lots of patience in the future, Jennifer.”

For some strange reason, Santa gave him a pointed look and smirked. That was a weird thing for this supposed Santa to say to a kid. Dylan shrugged in response.

“Dylan, what do you really want?”

“Fame and money.”

“Careful what you ask for, son. It isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.”

“Yeah, whatever. I can handle it. And you can bring me a Les Paul if so inclined.” Go big or go home.

“Smile!” the elf barked, ready to take the picture.

Dylan flashed a smile, pretending it was paparazzi. Someday, he’d be legendary…

“Thank you, Santa.” Jennifer climbed down from the sleigh and ran to her waiting parents.

Santa leaned forward and tapped Dylan on the shoulder. “You two have fun together.”

Dylan rolled his eyes. “We’re not together. I was just helping the kid out.”

“Mark my words, someday you’ll need her help…”

“Dylan!”

Dylan groaned at the familiar shout and turned to face his brother. Rob was pointing at him and bent over double, laughing. Great, his older brother would never let him forget this humiliation. He turned back to glare at Santa, but he wasn’t there.

The elf was putting up a sign that said Santa would return in an hour. It was like he’d just disappeared…

Jennifer turned and waved at him, he saluted and smiled in return. She was a cute kid.

His brother Rob nudged his shoulder. “Isn’t she a little young for you? And aren’t you a little too old to be sitting on Santa’s lap?”

“Shut up, Rob.” He shoved his brother, but wondered what that Santa had meant by needing her help. She was just a little girl, and he was almost an adult. Besides, he had plans to get the hell out of town as soon as he could.

He’d prove Santa wrong, he’d find fame and make his fortune. Someday people would be standing in line to see him…

© Nancee Cain 2017

At seventeen, music legend Dylan McAthie ran away from his Alabama home to chase his dreams. Years later, he’s forced to return—coming full circle to escape the nightmare his life has become. Hounded by paparazzi and plagued by the aftermath of personal and professional loss, Dylan craves some quiet anonymity so he can regroup and sort out what lies ahead.

Hired by his estranged brother, Jennifer Adams knows exactly who Dylan is. She grew up next door to his family and has followed his career. But the surly, overbearing man she’s caring for as a private-duty nurse is far from the charming boy she remembers. Nevertheless, she’s determined to be professional, do a good job—and not fail at her first time getting away from home.

As her patient heals, his demeanor softens, and their interactions grow less antagonistic. Soon their chemistry is undeniable—and inappropriate—leaving the inexperienced Jennifer thoroughly confused. Adding to the turmoil, scandal finds Dylan once again, threatening all the progress he’s made and putting Jennifer at risk as collateral damage.

It’s up to Dylan to fix what his fame has so easily broken and find a way to move forward with his life. But will his resurrection mean the death of any relationship with Jennifer?

 

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